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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Musicals of All Time

See which classic Broadway shows beat out newcomer ‘Hamilton’

Original Cast Rent Perform Sing Dance Tony Awards 1996

The cast of 'Rent' on June 2nd, 1996 at the Tony Awards.

Everett Collection

Hamilton made history this year by receiving a grand total of 16 nominations for this year's Tony Awards – ultimately winning a total of 11, including Best Musical. The phenomenon is part of a long lineage of musical theater productions that capture the public's attention and reflects the culture surrounding it. Broadway combines the thrill of live music with the compelling storytelling and drama of watching a movie or TV show and, when done with incredible care and sensitivity, the combination of the two can lead to something transformative. In honor of this week's Tony Awards, we asked our readers to vote for the best musical of all time. Here are the results.

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‘West Side Story’

The passion and rebellion of West Side Story still lingers today. The musical, which is an interpretation of Romeo & Juliet told through the eyes of warring teenage gangs, debuted on Broadway in 1957 and continues to feel fresh with every revival and tour. The innovative show shifted the way musicals were staged, breaking apart rules of choreography and storytelling. One of its most thrilling contributions, however, are the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, who had his big break with the show's success and went on to write some of theater's most challenging, moving and iconic pieces. 

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‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Originally released as a concept album, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera re-told the story of Jesus' last week of life in the most Seventies way possible. The controversial musical, which debuted in 1970, highlighted the tension between Jesus and Judas in a modern way that was as loud and brazen as the rock music topping the charts and youth culture shepherding in a new decade at the time. 

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‘Les Misérables’

Based off Victor Hugo's novel of the same name, the musical Les Miz has become a frequently revived Broadway classic that retells the story of the French revolution. The stories of characters like Javert, Fantine and Éponine are told with delicacy and soundtracked by some of theater's most epic, explosive ballads and numbers that reflect the immediacy of the movement and class war occurring in 19th-century France.

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‘Tommy’

The Broadway adaptation of the Who's epic 1969 rock opera Tommy gave new life to the tale of a deaf, dumb and blind boy who turns out to be a pinball wizard. It tied up the loose ends of the more ambiguous album and brought the classic Sixties rock opera into the Nineties. At the Tony Awards, Pete Townshend ended up nabbing a trophy for Best Original Score.

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‘Cabaret’

Set in the grungy Kit Kat Klub amidst the rise of Nazi power in Berlin, Kander and Ebb's Cabaret centered on the tale of Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw, respectively an English performer and American writer who meet in the club. Growing unrest threatens their relationship as the jaunty, flamboyant performances as directed by the Emcee propel the escapist feelings of those attached to the nightclub. The show originally hit Broadway in 1966, but its 1998 revival conceived and directed by Sam Mendes has become the the most iconic incarnation, burnishing the stars of Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming, while also becoming the third longest-running Broadway revival of all time. 

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‘Rent’

Rent shepherded in a new type of theater experiences, reflecting the health and money crises of the late Eighties and early Nineties. Based on the opera La Bohème, and set in New York City's East Village, it told the story of a diverse group of friends and artists struggle with inspiration, HIV/AIDS and paying the rent. Jonathan Larson's inventive book, music and lyrics set a new precedent for what musical theater could sound like, creating a pop-rock musical that was radio friendly and could appeal to new generations of potential fans.

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‘The Rocky Horror Show’

The film adaptation of Rocky Horror has become one of the most identifiable versions of the story of sweet transvestite Dr. Frank N. Furter and his ghoulish home that sucks in vanilla couple Brad and Janet, but the same year that the film flopped at cinemas, the stage show lived a short life in New York City. Prior to 1975, The Rocky Horror Show had been a hit in London and Los Angeles, making it seem like New York audiences were ready for the extravagantly weird sci-fi adventure. Like the film adaptation, the stage version took some time to become a cult favorite and made it back to Broadway in 2000 and featured a host of celebrities taking on the classic roles, including Joan Jett, Sebastian Bach, Luke Perry, Dick Cavett and more.

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‘Hamilton’

It's rare for a Broadway show to reach as globally as Hamilton has since premiering in 2015, but the powerful retelling of one of the United States' lesser-known Founding Fathers through the lens of an immigrant narrative starring a cast of mostly non-white performers was unprecedented. Lin-Manuel Miranda seamlessly followed-up his smash debut musical In the Heights with a story even bigger and ended up winning a Pulitzer and a host of awards, including Grammys and Tonys, while seeing the soundtrack become a chart success, another rarity in theater. 

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‘Guys and Dolls’

Set in a gritty underworld of gambling, Guys and Dolls carries an incredible sense of humor and charm. It premiered on Broadway in 1950 originally and has returned almost every decade since, starring everyone from Vivian Blaine in the original production, to Nathan Lane and Peter Gallagher in the 1992 revival and Oliver Platt and Lauren Graham in the 2009 revival.

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‘A Chorus Line’

A Chorus Line is the meta Broadway hit of the Seventies, highlighting the tales of dancers as they prepare for an audition and explore their personal histories. In 1976, the show was a near-sweep at the Tony Awards, winning for Best Musical, Best Choreography and in acting categories as well. It also took home the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Its original run became one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history, beat out only by Cats.

In This Article: Broadway, Readers Poll

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